I love, love, love picnics.
Growing up, when the weather was fine, my dad and step mom would round up all the kids and dogs and off to the beach we’d go.
Leaving the simmering heat of the city behind, in just under an hour we’d find ourselves on the shores of the 6th largest fresh water lake in Canada, Lake Winnipeg.
With a cool breeze coming off the lake we’d run, tumble and surf the towering sand dunes (up to 12 meters!). The sand was so warm and silky that you couldn’t help but want to snuggle into it, slowly burying yourself one soft handful at a time. Covered in sand we’d dash into the freezing water. Splashing and jumping the waves until we were almost blue with cold.
Exhausted and shivering, we’d descend on our spread out picnic blanket and devour sandwiches and chips. The simplest sandwiches were always amazingly delicious- even with the little extra sand grit on the side. To this day, I savour those precious family moments.
This is where I think that picnics and exercise can have a lot in common. If you’re struggling to keep exercise a constant in your life, maybe you need to stop using exercise as a means to get something –to get thinner or to reduce your chance of disease — and focus on the actual experience.
As a parent, I can now truly appreciate the time, energy and organization that it must have taken to get us to those ‘carefree’ beach days. And yet despite all that effort, I want to create that same experience for my kids.
If I didn’t enjoy picnics, even if they were good for my health (which I’m pretty sure they are) or helped me to lose weight (which I’m sure they do not–not mine, anyway), I might make the effort for a bit but would eventually find some reason not to have them.
Instead, when I focus on the way picnics make me feel: joyful, connected, playful and adventurous –the effort and organization seems so worth it.
We’ve all heard about why exercise is so good for us and most of us have access to equipment and facilities, but still we can’t get ourselves to exercise consistently. Why is that?
I believe it’s because we need to stop using sheer willpower or guilt and discover the joy and passion of moving our bodies. We need to shift our attention from an external outcome to an inner experience.
The first step in developing an inner passion for moving your body begins with creating a vision.
Ask yourself: How do I want exercise to make me feel?
For me, my desired experience of exercise is pretty similar to that of picnics: I want to feel joyful, connected, playful and adventurous. Add in powerful and strong and exercise becomes something that I seek out no matter what’s happening in my life.
Not sure how you want to feel? Try to remember a time in your life when you had a positive experience in moving your body. Maybe it was when you were a small child and you loved to run or swing (or surf sand dunes). Maybe it was a favourite dance class or sport in school. Using those memories can help you get clear on how you want to feel now. And if you truly can’t call up any memories, it’s okay to just go ahead and make something up.
Next, shift from thinking that exercise is something you should/ have to do to more of just a part of who you are. An expression of your physical being.
Three kinds of inner motivation :
Integration. This is where exercise just becomes part of your everyday life- helping you to meet other needs-mental, social or even spiritual- in your life. You could use exercise to satisfy your desire to learn by taking up a new sport, find connection with others by joining a walking club or hike in the woods to help center yourself and gain the healing benefits of nature.
Mastery. According to Martin Seligman’s book Flourish, one of the key elements to our well being is a sense of achievement. Human happiness must include the ability to say “I did it!” A mastery focus keeps you tuned in to your abilities and tracks your improvements, making you feel great. This is all about setting your own criteria for success, not comparing yourself to others.
Sarah, a client of mine, recently shared how when she started to exercise for the first time in her life at age 46 she took it one step at a time. First she started walking around the block, then she decided to try to walk a mile, then she decided to try jogging.
Now, she’s registered for her first 5km walk/run event and she is pumped. “Right from the start I decided to focus on what I could do and loved seeing how I improved bit by bit. I didn’t compare myself to anyone else-I think doing that would’ve really brought me down. I just did it because it was fun and I liked challenging myself.”
Flow. Have you ever been so absorbed in an activity that you completely forgot about time? This is flow.
When I used to run, there were days when my body felt light and strong and I’d get caught up in the beauty of my surroundings. I felt like I could run effortlessly forever. It was exhilarating. Those moments were a big part of why I kept running.
So how do you go about creating flow? You’re most likely to experience flow when your current skills are matched to the challenge of the situation. When you feel like you don’t have what it takes for a certain challenge, it can leave you feeling anxious. And when your skills outweigh the situation, you end up bored. Flow comes in that sweet spot between the two.
Tuning in, focusing on your inner experience will help you to see and feel quite differently about exercise and moving your body. If you’re intrigued by these ideas and want to learn more, I invite you to read The Intrinsic Exerciser by Jay Kimiecik.
Have you found a way to make friends with exercise? Share your thoughts in the comments below.